Rediscovery of the Oriental Bay-Owl Phodilus badius in Peninsular India.


R. KANNAN (1993) FORKTAIL 8:148-9.

The Oriental Bay-Owl Phodilus badius is an enigma in Indian ornithology. Three disjunct, widely separated populations exist, and the bird is apparently very rare in all three areas. What little that is known about the species is from occasional observations of the northern race P b saturatus, the rabge of which extends from Sikkim through Manipur to Viet Nam. Of the other two populations, P b ripleyi apparently occurs in a very small section of the southern Western Ghats of India. Until recently it was known only from a single specimen taken at Periasolai (10 36'N; 74 40'E) in the Nelliampathy Hills, Kerala (Hussain and Khan 1978). The third race, P b assimilis, occurs in Sri lanka, whence it is known from about a dozen specimens.

On 14 February 1992 my tribal field assistant Natarajan, wjile leading a group of tourists inside Karian Shola, a well known patch of forest in the Anaimalai Hills, came across an Oriental Bay-Owl sleeping on the limb of a small tree in deep evergreen forest. The bird was photographed and I was able to conform the identification from the prints. This record was from about 30m to the west of the Tamil Nadu - Kerala border, in the sungam range of Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary (10 28N; 76 50E). The spot is about 1.2 km from Top Slip town in Tamil Nadu. Natarajan informed me that one of the members in the group poked the sleeping bird with a long stick, resulting in the bird opening its eyes briefly before going back to sleep. On further disturbance the bird reluctantly took flight and settled elsewhere. This incident lends support to the statement in Ali and Ripley (1987) that it "is greatly incommoded by, and practically helpless in the daylight".

I combed the area the very next day with Natarajan, but failed to see the bird. From then on, I kept a sharp look-out for the species during daily forays inside Karian Shola and, on 6 April, in depp evergreen forest along the trail towards Pandaravarai Hill, I spotted an Oriental Bay-Owl perched on the rim of a tree-hole about 10m up. I made a careful field sketch and showed the bird to my tribal tracker, Velli. The most striking feature of this handsome owl is the broad V extending across the falt, pale face. The little ear tufts and the faint spots on the breast could be seen with binoculars. It stared at me with half-open eyes for a while and then, almost imperceptibly shuffled deeper into the cavity. This sighting was about 1 km northeast of the February record, within the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu. I presuem that these two sightings relate to different individuals considering the time and distance between the two encounters. The fact that a careful search for the bird was successful in finding it suggests that it may be more common than is believed - it may well have been overlooked due to its strictly nocturnal habits and low density of populations. It may occur further south in sanctuaries such as Kalakkad (Tamil Nadu) and Periyar (Kerala), where similar habitat exists. A thorough, systematic survey is needed to ascertain the true status and distribution of this subspecies.

The Periasolai are in the Nelliampathies, where the type specimen was collected in a coffee estate, was largely "wet evergreen forest" (Hussain and Khan 1978), but is now a vast clearing with Tapioca plantations (K. Subban, Tamil Nadu Forest Dept., verbally). Much of the Nelliampathy Hills are now denuded, but the Anaimalais, with two wildlife sanctuaries covering over 1250 km2, enjoy better protection, especially with the recent elevation of Karian Shola to the staus of a National Park. This must be important for the survival of this rare owl, which is only known from the Anaimalai - Nelliampathy hills.

I thank Natarajan for first reporting the species to me and for presenting the photograph to me; Arul Jothi for his description from the February sighting; and to V. santharam, K. K. Neelakantan and Z. Futehally for their comments and suggestions.

This note is dedicated to the late Professor Neelakantan for his contributions to the ornithology of Kerala. He reviewed this manuscript but, unfortunately, did not live to see it in print.


Ali, S and Ripley, S D. 1987. Handbook .....compact edition

Hussain, S. A. and Khan M A R 1978. A new subspecies of Bay Owl (P badius) from peninsular India. JBNHS 74:334-336.

R Kannan, Hornbill Project, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Top Slip 642 141 via Pollachi, India.


Hope that was of interest. Any recent records of Bay-Owl from Sri Lanka or other places?


   T R Shankar Raman
   Centre for Ecological Sciences
   Indian Institute of Science
   Bangalore - 560 012, INDIA.
   Ph: +91 80 309 2506/334 0985
   Fax: +91 80 334 1683

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